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The free-agent forward has overplayed his hand with the Cavaliers.
You can never fault an NBA player for trying to get as much dough as possible. Careers are fleeting and the NBA already restricts salaries at the top end, so why not maximize your worth when you have the opportunity? Railing against players looking forward to free agency is usually foolish. Players should leverage their situations to set up themselves and their families while the getting is good, because it will not always be good.
In this respect, Tristan Thompson is perfectly justified for holding out to get the contract he wants. He's been looking for a full maximum contract, which is $94 million over five years. His camp has also reportedly pitched a three-year, $53 million version. The Cavaliers don't like either idea, and have seemingly held strong at $80 million over five years, or an average of $16 million per season. Every dollar paid to Thompson costs the Cavaliers treble because of the luxury tax; they seem unwilling to budge much, if at all.
So while Thompson is perfectly justified to chase that dough, let us all acknowledge that his contract demands are rather ridiculous.
Thompson averaged eight points and eight rebounds for the Cavaliers last season. He will be backing up Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov this season, probably averaging no more than 25 minutes per game. (While he averaged about 27 minutes per game last season, he played just 23 per game after the All-Star break. Mozgov arrived in January.) Thompson is a very good offensive rebounder; Love happens to be one of the best in the league. Thompson is a versatile defender capable of switching the pick-and-roll. That's a nice skill. It's not an $18.8 million per year skill. If we're being honest, it's not a $16 million skill either, even in this inflated salary environment.
Thompson is a nice player being offered a big contract and demanding an enormous one. Given that LeBron James -- who is intertwined personally via Rich Paul, James' old friend and both players' agent -- has disentangled himself from the proceedings, the Cavaliers have the leverage. Thompson can't sit the entire season without ending up a restricted free agent again in 2016, and he may have let his last chance to take a one-year qualifying offer pass Thursday.
There's little indication either the Portland Trail Blazers or Philadelphia 76ers are interested in presenting an offer sheet of Thompson's choosing in order to shove the Cavaliers into action. Portland could extend Thompson's three-year, $53 million wish with a player or team option on the final year, but why would the rebuilding Blazers want Thompson for at least two years at that price if Cleveland didn't match? Likewise, the Sixers can offer $51 million over three years, but why? Thompson plays the one position the Sixers don't actually need.
At some point, if the Cavaliers hold tight, Thompson and his agent need to realize that Cleveland is being smart, not stingy. This is way too much money for any NBA team to tie up in Tristan Thompson, and Cleveland is particularly suited to survive without him.
At some point, that giant golden egg on the table ought to become too tempting to avoid. And that point should come pretty soon.
Deadline passes with no deal for Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers
Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
CLEVELAND -- Cavaliers free-agent forward Tristan Thompson did not accept a one-year, $6.8 million qualifying offer for the 2015-16 season by Thursday's 11:59 p.m. ET deadline, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Thompson remains a restricted free agent, and negotiations between his representative, Rich Paul, and the Cavs will now continue with only a few possible outcomes remaining to get Thompson back in his familiar No. 13 jersey in Cleveland and end the standoff that has already caused him to miss the first three days of training camp.
With the one-year option off the table -- Thompson can no longer unilaterally accept the qualifying offer at that rate unless the Cavs choose to make it available again -- negotiations will shift toward both sides coming to terms on a multiyear deal.
Paul recently vacated a five-year, $94 million max contract demand for his client in favor of a preferred three-year, $53 million deal, per league sources. The Cavs have already tendered a five-year, $80 million offer to Thompson, according to sources.
Paul could also seek an outside offer from another team for his client, but the Cavs would have the right to match any offer of the sort because Thompson remains a restricted free agent.
The news comes on the heels of Cavs general manager David Griffin expressing optimism that Thompson would be reporting to camp soon.
"We fully expect that tomorrow he will be here in some form or fashion," Griffin said during NBA TV's broadcast of Thursday's training camp. "We're hopeful that he wants to move forward with his teammates in the same way that we want to have Tristan here. If we can come to some agreement, then we will."
The Cavs franchise has experience with players holding out, notably in the beginning of the 2007-08 season, when swingman Sasha Pavlovic missed all of training camp as he awaited a more amenable offer and center Anderson Varejaosat out until mid-December before striking a deal.
"Well, it wasn't easy for me to be away the way I was," Varejao said Thursday. "I probably missed the first 21 games, if I remember. But I had to do it. I had to do it back then because I felt like I was disrespected with the offer they offered me. But I don't really know what's going on with Tristan right now. The numbers [of the contract] and stuff, I'm not sure. But I'm pretty confident that he will be here soon."
Cavs forward James Jones, who also serves as the secretary-treasurer of the NBA Players' Association, said that Thompson's teammates aren't taking his absence personally.
"First thing's first, we understand that this is a business, and once the business is taken care of we can come in and work on the floor," Jones said. "So until that's resolved, he's handling his business, and we support him 100 percent. At the same time, the guys that are here, we're working, and we have a goal and a mission, and we're not going to let anything stop us from focusing. We're staying on course.
"Once you take care of the business, when all the guys are here, we'll saddle up, we'll huddle up and we'll make adjustments. But for now, we're just playing ball."
Tristan Thompson passes on Cavs' qualifying offer, now a holdout
1. Nothing actually changes. Thompson can still wind up signing the qualifying offer at $6.8 million ... the Cavs just have to offer it again. He can sign a one-year deal. He can pursue a deal from another team. All that really changes here is that Thompson no longer has the qualifying offer on the table.
The term 'holdout' sounds serious, and this situation isn't great, but it's also not as dramatic as it can be in other sports. The two sides are still presumably working toward a long-term solution to the standoff.
2. The Cavaliers have all the leverage. Thompson is out of options. If the Cavaliers want, they can go back and halve their offer. Thompson's only leverage was the threat he'd sign the qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent in 2016. With that off the table, there's nothing really he can do. His only leverage is not being in camp.
And that's a real problem for a team with an All-Star power forward and multiple quality veteran big men. Oh, wait, no, it's not a problem at all. Thompson had better hope Rich Paul can pull another rabbit out of his hat.
3. Speaking of Rich Paul, he doesn't look great. The youngster super agent has been lauded for how he handled Eric Bledsoe's negotiations last summer, but Bledsoe wound up without the max deal he wanted, though he did get big money. Thompson wanted the max ... no dice, it seems.
Paul and Thompson turned down big money deals earlier in the year and again this summer, believing his performance in the Cavs' Finals run made him worth the investment. Cleveland refused to blink and now they're largely out of options. Not an ideal situation.
4. A long-term deal is still possible. The Cavs would still likely rather have Thompson locked up long-term, they just want it at the price they want. Thompson clearly wants the security of a multi-year deal or he would have just taken the qualifying offer.
The Cavs may have all the cards, but a realistic and reasonable solution is still possible in the next few days that can make both sides happy.
5. LeBron James is probably starting to get annoyed, which isn't good for anyone involved. James said during the playoffs last year Thompson should be a Cavalier for life. They share an agent. James has made it clear the Cavs should take care of him. Other than that he's stayed out of it for the most part, but at some point, James is going to want Thompson on the court.
Whoever he calls to end it, hearing from James about this situation is probably something both sides want to avoid to prevent facing the King's wrath.